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Ebola epidemic reaches Guinea capital, UNICEF says

© AFP file picture

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-24

An epidemic of the deadly Ebola virus in Guinea has now reached the country’s capital of Conakry, the United Nations children's agency said on Sunday.

"At least 59 out of 80 who contracted Ebola across the West African country have died so far. Over the past few days, the deadly haemorrhagic fever has quickly spread from the communities of Macenta, Gueckedou, and Kissidougou to the capital, Conakry," UNICEF said.

Conakry, a vast, sprawling port city on Guinea's Atlantic coast, is estimated to have a population of between 1.5 and two million.

To date, no treatment or vaccine is available for Ebola, which kills between 25 and 90 percent of those who fall sick, depending on the strain of the virus, according to the World Health Organisation.

The disease is transmitted by direct contact with blood, faeces or sweat, or by sexual contact or unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.

UNICEF said at least three victims of the outbreak, which began on February 9, were children.

"This outbreak is particularly devastating because medical staff are among the first victims, so far it has killed at least eight health workers who have been in contact with infected patients, hindering the response and threatening normal care in a country already lacking in medical personnel," UNICEF said.

The organisation said it had rushed five tonnes of aid, including medical supplies, to the most affected areas in Guinea's south.

"UNICEF has pre-positioned supplies and stepped up communication on the ground to inform and sensitise medical staff and the population on how to avoid contracting Ebola."

The organisation urged Guineans not to attend funerals wherever possible and to avoid all contact with the sick and the dead.

‘One of the most virulent diseases’

Ebola, one of the world's most virulent diseases, was first discovered in Africa in 1976. The most recent epidemic, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), infected 62 people and left 34 dead between May and November 2012, according to the country's health ministry.

There are fears it could be used in a biological weapons attack.

According to researchers, the virus multiplies quickly, overwhelming the immune system's ability to fight the infection.

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has set up isolation units for suspected cases in the southern region of Nzerekore and is seeking out people who may have had contacts with the infected.

World Health Organisation officials say cases showing similar symptoms, including fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and bleeding have also been reported in an area of Sierra Leone near the border with Guinea.

On Saturday, a Sierra Leone health official said that authorities there were running tests to determine if the cases were part of the epidemic in Guinea.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
 

Date created : 2014-03-23

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